From Theory to Practice: A Graduates Journey Beyond the MSc. in Sport, Exercise and Performance Psychology – Maire Treasa Ni Cheallaigh

From Connemara to Career Change

A career in sports journalism culminating in a dual role at the national broadcaster RTE in Irish language news broadcasting and sport reporting, had opened my eyes to the role of sport psychology in high level sport. I was intrigued by many questions about the challenges of human performance between the goalposts. A weekend back home in Galway gave me time to walk the strand in Carraroe. The experience awakened me (I later learnt this is referred to as a blue mind phenomenon) and I reflected on the potential for a career change -keep the sport spin but swop or add psychology to my repertoire of skills. A few phone calls later and I found myself sitting in a lecture hall in the PESS building furiously taking notes and wondering why my arm felt like lead after 20 minutes. I struggled on still inspired by the memories of the waves lapping on the Atlantic shoreline where I made my decision.

Amplifying the Voice: Book Chapter Contributions

Contributing to a book chapter entitled Tracks and Trails: Case Studies in Green Exercise with a team of co-authors including Andree Walkin, Greig Oliver and Susan Gritzka, enabled my writing skills to help co-create an accessible account of the lived experiences of those who thrive in the outdoors. GOGREEN research had left an impression on me and walk and talk is now part of my consulting approach (even with umbrellas!!!) and it continues to resonate with me. Life under COVID19 brought this message home-we need green and blue space to be accessible for all! Lockdown also gave me the opportunity to start a book on applied sport psychology (Top Secret! For now).

Achieving the Gold Standard

The current gold standard for practitioners in performance psychology is what is termed Sport Ireland Institute Professional Accreditation or SIIPA accreditation. The process is quite arduous, and it involves doing supervised practice for a period of time and then submitting a lot of paperwork to be evaluated. It’s worth its’ weight in gold as the practicum supervision offers you that other voice you need for your first consults and beyond. Remember we are dealing with athletes, the age of which across the elite level, overlaps with the age of onset of mental health issues (16-24 yrs). Caution is your starting point. Big learnings to be had here and I still use peer supervision to support my consulting-it’s an opportunity for ongoing learning and reflection.

A Pivot Point: Which Doctor(ate)?

My dissertation entitled “The lived experiences of elite male GAA athletes: From third level to retirement” had piqued my interest in career transitions in high level amateur sport. A QCA of 3.52 led me to apply for an EHS Faculty fee waiver. The planned research topic was elite athletes’ knowledge, perceptions and experiences of mental health and well-being using a longitudinal mixed-methods approach. I didn’t succeed in the application but had still my eye on a PhD even if initially self-funded. Another visit to the beach, Trá na Dóilin, which is made of coral rather than sand. Graduate entry to medicine would enable me to craft my career trajectory with an eye on sport and appreciation of psychology. I enrolled in RCSI in Dublin.

“You Never Really Leave PESS”

Most recently I translated the summary for the EU funded GOGREEN ROUTES project into Irish. Weekly chats about my case studies, where Tadhg MacIntyre supervises my applied consulting, and discourse across the network of graduates keep my grounded. My own podcasts (add links) highlighted the work of Dr Mark Campbell on the mind  of elite golfer and Dr Tadhg MacIntyre on applied sport psychology and well-being keep the ties to PESS going. I’m contributing to the PESS Winter School on Professional Practice in and blogging on my experiences of sport, psychology and medicine. The idea of a PhD still stirs me and let’s see what happens when I next get back to that beach. Atlantic waves always inspire me to take a leap into the unknown.

For further information on the Masters programmes at PESS in sport psychology see here. PESS also offers Summer internships and funded studentships.

About the Author

Maire Treasa Ní Cheallaigh graduated from NUIG with a degree in psychology and Gaeilge, was awarded a distinction in her MSc in Sport, Exercise and Performance Psychology at PESS and is a third year medicine student at RCSI. She is also a practitioner sport psychologist accredited by the Sport Ireland Institute and continues her role as a broadcast journalist.



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